It was far from a merry Christmas, but Chris Coleman is looking forward to a happier new year. Four days after they were booed off the pitch following their sixth defeat in eight Premiership matches, his team produced a performance at Craven Cottage on Saturday which confirmed what their manager has known all along: with the talent at his disposal, Fulham should not be anywhere near the relegation zone.
While the goalscoring touch of Andy Cole and the pace and trickery of Luis Boa Morte provided the headline performances, what impressed most about Fulham was their work- rate and endeavour.
Fulham were the first to almost every loose ball and chased like terriers. Papa Bouba Diop and Mark Pembridge controlled the centre of midfield, Zat Knight and Zesh Rehman were dominant in defence and Steed Malbranque, Tomasz Radzinski and Boa Morte constantly harried the home defence. It was a good end to a bad week for Coleman, who described his Christmas as "absolute pants - the worst I've ever had". He had a meeting on Friday with some of the club's directors, though he insisted they had been wholly supportive and discussed plans to strengthen the squad.
"They knew it was going to be a difficult season, so I've known that as long as we didn't get relegated everything would be OK," Coleman said. "But I know we're a better team than that, which is why I get angry and frustrated."
While there was no doubt that Fulham deserved their three points, Iain Dowie, the Palace manager, wondered what might have been had the referee done his duty when Edwin van der Sar brought down Andy Johnson 10 minutes before half-time. Johnson drove home the resultant penalty to cancel out Cole's smartly-taken opener, but Dermot Gallagher declined to take any further action against the Fulham goalkeeper.
Dowie said: "It was a clear penalty. Andy Johnson was clean through on goal and the rules are that if the last man prevents a goal-scoring opportunity then he's off. One of my players said the explanation from the referee was, 'You got your goal didn't you?' I don't like the rule, but a rule's a rule."
Second-half goals by Cole and Radzinski condemned Palace to a 10th successive Premiership match without a win and Dowie desperately needs a victory at home to Aston Villa today. Like Coleman, he is hoping to recruit during the transfer window. "I have some targets lined up," he said.
Goals: Cole (4) 1-0; Johnson pen (35) 1-1; Cole (60) 2-1; Radzinski (73) 3-1.
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar; Volz (Rosenior, 76), Knight, Rehman, Bocanegra; Diop, Pembridge; Radzinski, Malbranque (Clark, 82), Boa Morte (John, 89); Cole. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), McBride.
Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Kiraly; Butterfield, Hall, Popovic, Granville; Routledge, Riihilahti (Torghelle, 64), Hughes (Leigertwood, 64), Soares, Lakis (Andrews, 79); Johnson. Substitutes not used: Speroni (gk), Boyce.
Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).
Booked: Fulham Knight; Crystal Palace Soares, Butterfield, Popovic.
Man of the match: Boa Morte.
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